Steep terrain

Steep terrain

This article looks at various exercises that can be carried out at home, in the gym or outdoors to improve your balance and strength to cope with steeper terrain.

The muscle groups used on steeper terrain are the same as those for walking on flatter ground except the range of movement is amplified and tends to be more powerful. The main muscle groups include the calves, thighs and hips - and the arms, especially if you use trekking poles.

To include training for your arms, do any of these exercises with a small weight in each hand and move your arms as if you were walking normally or holding poles 

The following are a selection of exercises that, if continued regularly, will help improve your ability to negotiate steeper walks.

Home exercises
 
Balances - Stand on one leg with the other knee raised. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Rest and repeat with your other foot. This exercise is great for improving your balance as well as strengthening your ankles and lower calf muscles. If you find the exercise easy, close your eyes while balancing.

Toe raises - This is the easiest exercise to improve your calf strength. For most benefit use a raised edge (such as a doorstep, telephone directory or stair) to maximise range of movement. Do 20-30 per minute.

Step-ups - Using a raised platform such as a stair, low chair or stool, this exercise mimics the action required for climbing steeper terrain (Make sure the platform is stable).

Side step ups - much the same as step ups but done sideways onto a bench or chair.

Gym-based exercises

Inclined treadmill - This effectively adds extra resistance to the straightforward walking motion.

Step machine - Use a resistance that allows around 10-15 minutes of exercise before resting and repeating. If the machine has foot straps you can also train 'the lifting muscles' on the backs of your legs. Some machines also have levers to exercise your arms at the same time.

Cycling and rowing - Are also good general exercises to include in a training session - use low resistances to begin with and build up gradually so that you are able to continue the exercise for at least 10-15 minutes.

Outdoor exercises
 
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Brecon Beacons Hill training - Choose a reasonably steep hill (ideally it should be long enough to give between 5-10 minutes of climbing). Aim to climb and descend several times in one session. Time how long each climb takes to measure your progress.

Plan walks to include some significant ascent or descent, but begin with those that are relatively short. You can start by climbing just one hill, or even just part of it, during the day and gradually increase the length or steepness as you become more comfortable and your fitness improves.

Take the stairs!

We've heard it before, but walking up flights of stairs is a very accessible and easy opportunity for most people to squeeze in a short training session several times a day. Walk a little faster than normal or try taking two steps at a time.

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